I hesitate to say this was just one of those nights where the Red Sox couldn’t catch a break and the Rays did, because that makes it seem as though the Rays got lucky. They didn’t. They played a great game, showing off their preposterous defensive positioning prowess as well as a great young core with Randy Arozarena, Wander Franco, and Shane McClanahan all playing huge roles in this win. But at the same time, the Red Sox had more hits, but just never seemed to get that one extra hit for the inning they needed to put runs on the board. That, combined with a start from Eduardo Rodriguez in which he just didn’t have it, doomed the Red Sox to start this ALDS.
In that last series of the regular season last weekend in Washington, Eduardo Rodriguez took the mound in the series opener as a starter and pitched in relief in the finale. Both times it seemed as though it could be his last outing in a Red Sox uniform, as he’s set to hit free agency after this season. Those outings were a big reason why they were not his last in a Red Sox uniform, again making that potential final appearance on Thursday to kick off the ALDS. This time around, he didn’t do himself the same favor.
Now, in something of a microcosm of the entire season, Rodriguez suffered from some bad luck on both batted balls and with his defense. But that wasn’t all that was to blame, as he did too much nibbling, and did so without pinpoint control. The result was long at bats and some walks, including to Randy Arozarena to lead off the bottom of the first. That put speed on the bases, and Wander Franco followed it up with a line drive into center field. This is where the defense came into play, as Kiké Hernández bobbled the ball, which was enough for Arozarena to come around and make it a 1-0 game, just two batters in.
Rodriguez did get the next couple of batters out, though they were not on quiet contact, moving Franco up to third base with two outs. And this is where some batted ball misfortune came in, as Yandy Díaz hit a slow roller to the left side with Rafael Devers playing deep, and while Devers made a nice play and throw, Díaz got in safely to bring home a second run for Tampa Bay.
Rodriguez would ultimately only record two more outs, issuing another walk to lead off the second before getting a pair of outs — again, one not very quiet. With the top of the order coming back around and Rodriguez just not having it at all, Alex Cora made the change and called upon Garrett Richards to end the inning, and he did so without issue.
Somewhat surprisingly, just given Richards’ past as a starter, he was used for just one out, with Nick Pivetta getting the ball for the third. His stuff looked crisper than that of Rodriguez, but he made a mistake to Nelson Cruz, which is inadvisable. A 3-1 slider stayed right over the plate and Cruz hit it into the catwalks at the Trop, but the ones that mean it’s a home run, making it a 3-0 game. A couple innings later, Arozarena jumped on a 3-2 fastball and blasted it 397 feet for another solo homer, giving Tampa four runs through five.
And then on the other side, after getting to Gerrit Cole in the Wildcard Game, the Red Sox offense had more trouble against rookie lefty Shane McClanahan. They did have their opportunities, though, including in the first when Kyle Schwarber hit a one-out single then stole second base on strike three in the next at bat. But he’d be left standing at second. Similarly, they started the second with a hard-hit single off the wall and an error, but a double play helped cancel out that start for a scoreless inning. They’d have one more two-runner inning in the fourth, but again could not score.
McClanahan ended up going five very strong innings in this game, allowing five hits but not walking anybody and striking out three. The Rays then handed things off to their deep bullpen in the sixth with a 4-0 lead in their pocket and J.T. Chargois getting the call first. Xander Bogaerts did start off that inning with a base hit, but another double play helped that go wasted.
Pivetta came back out for a perfect sixth and made two outs to start the seventh. But that brought the top of the order back around, and he walked Arozarena before Franco hit another double. This time the run didn’t score, but it put two in scoring position for Brandon Lowe, with Josh Taylor now entering. We mentioned Arozarena’s speed earlier, and he showed it off in a big way here. With Taylor being a lefty, his back is turned to the runner at third base and he didn’t notice that Arozarena got a huge lead with Devers shifted over. He stole home, and it upped the Tampa Bay lead to five.
The eighth would represent the best chance in the game for the Red Sox offense, as well as a nice microcosm of the game. They got some runners on early with Christian Arroyo and Schwarber hitting two singles with one out in between. That brought Bogaerts to the plate, and he hit what should have been a routine fly ball to center field, but the ball was lost in the baseball-colored roof in Tampa and fell in to load the bases. It was a huge chance to make this a game again with the meat of the order coming up, but Devers struck out and Renfroe popped out, both missing some hittable pitches.
And that was pretty much that. Adam Ottavino got the last inning for the Red Sox, and the offense went down without a run in the bottom of the inning. The 5-0 loss put the Red Sox down one game to none in this ALDS.
The Red Sox will look to even this series up on Friday as they have Chris Sale on the mound to take on Shane Baz. First pitch is at 7:08 PM ET.